As promised, I had a little surprise up my sleeve for you whilst I carouse in Argentina. Today I bring you the wonderfully talented blogger and all-around awesome person, Sally McGraw.
Even as a teenager, I felt like I knew myself pretty well. I knew what I wanted, what I was capable of, how the world viewed me. I was self-aware and self-assured. Or so I thought.
But looking back, I realize that I knew very little about myself. I felt frumpy and unattractive, yet had both men and women falling all over themselves to be with me. I felt absolutely certain that I would become a bestselling novelist, yet had never written a line of fiction. I felt like I had my style nailed, yet I was essentially just wearing peer group-sanctioned duds … and looking disheveled and formless in them.
Even after I’d graduated from college and taken my first job, I flailed – both personally and stylistically. I had no idea how to be myself, look like myself, make myself feel strong and vibrant and GOOD. In the present day, I work at a university, and there are always a handful of truly lovely college girls roaming around the office, making copies and stuffing envelopes for some piddly stipend. Some of them eventually get hired on as real live employees, and I always see my former self in them: Struggling to understand what “work wear” means to a 21-year-old woman who has lived in jeans and sweatshirts for the length of her short life. Their pants are too long, their shoes impractical, their hair unkempt, their sweaters either far to formal or far too low-cut. They have no idea who they are because they are in transition, and their stylistic sputterings reflect this to the observing world.
I finally hit my stride at about 27. I’d been married for two years and had finally shifted from “frantically dieting to keep weight off” to “leading a healthy lifestyle,” which meant I felt better about my body than ever before. I also felt secure and loved, smart and accomplished, grounded and happy; I felt like an adult. And when I turned my attention to personal style, I was actually ready to do that work. Because for the first time, I truly DID know what I wanted, what I was capable of, and how the world viewed me. And I was able to make better choices because of that awareness.
I chose clothing that worked with my body instead of disguising it. I chose classic pieces that were versatile and well-made instead of crappy sale items that had no lasting place in my wardrobe. I chose items that were eye-catching and embellished instead of staid and drab. I slowly assembled a closet full of clothing that fit and flattered my form, clothing that made me look better than ever. And I began to FEEL better than ever. It transformed my life to watch those links click into place: I knew myself, I knew my style, I felt strong and vibrant and GOOD. And it took me many years of exploratory fumblings to get there.
This is not to say that NO ONE can become stylish until they’ve passed a certain age. Awww, hells no. Along with the confusedly-dressed college girls there are a few who saunter into the office looking fierce and fresh and flawless in ways that I never could, not even at 32. And although those stylish young women definitely have a jump start on the rest of us, their personal styles will morph and transform in huge, unpredictable ways as they learn more and more about themselves.
Personal style is very, very personal. And it often takes time to puzzle out what your specific, unique, marvelous, and highly individual look will be. When we are still exploring ourselves and growing into our personalities, our unformed style tells the world about who we are. When we have found ourselves and allow our personalities to evolve at a slower, more relaxed pace, we drive. We shape our style, and decide how it will reflect our inner selves outward.